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The Flower Kings - Retropolis CD (album) cover

RETROPOLIS

The Flower Kings

 

Symphonic Prog

3.74 | 380 ratings

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Chicapah
Prog Reviewer
3 stars "Retropolis" is the sixth Flower Kings CD I've procured (seven if you count Roine Stolt's amazing solo debut that marked the beginning of the FK phenomenon) and by this point I've stopped comparing their albums to other prog artists and started rating them against each other. The fact that I've bought so many of their offerings establishes me as not only a satisfied customer but as a fan, yet I won't bore you with an expansive explanation of my admiration. It goes without saying that all of their works feature outstanding musicianship and production values, molded on a lofty level of competency so the difference in their recordings comes down to the quality of the songwriting involved. While this album is quite listenable and some of the songs are better than good I have to report that, compared to several of their finer releases, this one falls into the category of being an "average" Flower Kings project. Having said that, it still beats the dungarees off of most of the music floating around in Lake Prog today.

Opening an album with a recording of half a minute of a table tennis match titled "Rhythm of Life" isn't going to impress anyone with a brain and this doesn't. What is this? Did someone lose a bet? Or is this Ping Pong presented as a metaphor for the futility of mortal existence? Yeah, right. It's silly, nothing more. Skip it. Thankfully they segue straight into Tomas Bodin's "Retropolis," a lengthy instrumental featuring a big time beginning and several stirring performances from the cast. In typical mess-with-your-head fashion the band tosses in random movie-soundtrack effects that take some getting used to but the complicated countermelodies they surround Roine's steaming guitar runs with and the huge ascending bass lines rising underneath the fray are fascinating. "Retro" being the key word here, they pause briefly on a fog machine-shrouded plateau where they drift mysteriously along (re: Yes) before digressing into a cheap haunted house affair complete with corny, spooky noises. Realizing that they've painted themselves into a corner, they leap over the wet enamel and return to the song's main themes for a while before ending with some nice but kinda out of place 12 string acoustic guitar noodlings. Unfortunately some strange goings on return as "Rhythm of the Sea" starts but then thankfully they fade as Stolt sings a solemn ballad over serene acoustic guitars. Words have never been his strength for one reason or another but I find the line "just driving around with a random turn" to be highly descriptive of the proceedings so far. The song is classic in scope but ultimately it fails to make much of an impact and goes nowhere near meaningful.

The first half of "There is More to this World" contains some of the most exciting music these guys have ever made. After another strong charge out of the gate the tune establishes an impressive compositional structure/arrangement that will sweep you off your feet. Roine's crisp guitar tone (a Telecaster, perhaps?) is awesome and Bodin thrills with the myriad of keyboards he commands. However, when they attempt to manufacture a Yes-like, floating atmosphere in the second half along the lines of "Soon" the whole thing crashes and burns due mainly to the overly-sappy lyrics ("See how we run the fields/ride the wild horses again.") that dominate. Even Hans Froberg's silky voice can't save it from drowning in the mush pit. And it was going so splendidly for a while! Another of Tomas' contributions, "Romancing the City," clears the air with its simplicity as he performs a brief but lovely piano interlude. "The Melting Pot" is an intriguing instrumental containing clever dynamics that beckon the soprano sax of Ulf Wallander out from behind the curtain to interplay with the torrid guitarisms of Mr. Stolt. At one point an enormous cathedral organ appears out of nowhere and takes over the track much to my delight. I LOVE that sound.

"Silent Sorrow" is the first of two exceptional songs in a row that keep this album from sinking into the clutches of mediocrity. Occasionally Roine writes something more normal/cohesive and this is one of those times. Have I mentioned the extremely tight rhythm section of drummer Jaime Salazar and bassist Michael Stolt? Shame on me. They are the epoxy that holds it all together and they are magnificent throughout this album. When they collectively spin off into a 7/8 shuffle it's truly a moment to savor and the unbridled spirit of Frank Zappa is palpable here. This is where these boys shine. Church bells tolling in the distance, wolf howls and another large dose of the cathedral organ mark the intro to "The Judas Kiss," a straightforward (for this bunch, at least) heavy rocker that has a little of everything. After the initial verses a musical section ensues featuring some engaging Hammond organ from Bodin, followed by a calmer freeform segment where the piano, acoustic, synthesizers, a brash electric guitar and the soprano sax spar for a minute or two. This all seems to be leading up to a grand finale but then the number stops abruptly on a dime. You never know what to expect from the FKs.

Disastrously, Tomas was granted one final contribution. "Retropolis by Night" gives the distinct, depressing impression that this particular city becomes a disco inferno after sundown and that's a drag, my fellow proggies. And so is this track. This 3:18 of dismal synthesized techno-pop accompanied by ridiculous incidental bumps and grinds should have been trucked out to the Retropolis land fill and buried. "Flora Majora" is next and it goes a long way in helping you to forget the previous lapse in judgment. It's an instrumental that starts out with an ELP flavor, it succeeds in being melodic without becoming predictable and their skillful reprise of one of the themes from "There is More to this World" is a highlight of the album. Opting to close out on a sober but optimistic note, "The Road Back Home" is a hymn-like ballad where Roine trades vocal lines with himself over full, strumming acoustic guitars and Wallander adds serene soprano sax while the band slowly builds upon intertwining synthesizers. The song culminates in a cavernous wall of sound that will shake the room and bring a smile to your face.

There's a lot to be said for the validity of the dreaded "sophomore jinx" and perhaps that is what affected this album more than anything else. It surely wasn't from a lack of effort or talent and maybe they had bundled their best material for the impressive CD that preceded it, "Back in the World of Adventures." Yet I'm glad I have this album to put into the changer from time to time because there's a lot to enjoy about it but it's just lacking a visit to the magical "Holy Moly! Did you hear THAT?" places that they're so very good at transporting me to on many of their better works. 3.4 stars.

Chicapah | 3/5 |

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